The 40 days before Easter, better known as the Lenten period, is the time when we focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. For Christians, it is a bench test in changing our lifestyle and letting God change our hearts. Easter and the Resurrection of Christ signify a renewal of our lives and a promise to reinvent ourselves….very much like Spring. Spring is the season that shouts out through nature that it is time to be a bud again, to revive oneself and bloom. Like Easter, which reminds me that life is truly a constant beginning, a constant opportunity and a constant springtime, Spring sends a message that I can lighten the load, pack away what weighs me down (just like winter clothing) in exchange for the things that are less burdensome. It serves as a reminder to find meaning in living the simple life.
What does living a simple life mean? Does it mean getting rid of material things to make room for what I consider the nobler…relationships and friendship? Does it mean being more conscious of spending time instead of money in ways that will enrich my life and the lives of those around me? Does it mean living a life that isn’t defined by things I know won’t last? In other words, does it mean trading the material trappings — driving flashy cars, buying designer clothing, or the latest gadgets while attending every social event — for the freedom of creating less stress and becoming more resolute in the quality of relationships instead of quantity?
Is the ideology behind those actions enough to help me live a meaningful life? Because no matter how many closets I clean, it appears my struggle is less about deciding how much or how little stuff I have, and more about where I find my meaning in life.
At a recent panel discussion, a well versed speaker mentioned a quote by Joseph Campbell. “If you want to understand what’s most important to a society, don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.” In the early days of time, the biggest buildings in and around the cities were the places of worship, cathedrals, churches, synagogues, temples. By the 16th century, the biggest buildings in mid-city were political palaces of government. Today, the biggest/tallest buildings are office buildings and money market centers. It is the material that has the upper hand.
While I am convinced that, as human beings, it is our natural destiny to grow, to achieve and prosper, to succeed and amass, to find happiness in the immediacy, I also know that as individuals and as a society we want to positively impact and transform the world around us; to give meaning to our existence. But we won’t find those things that give meaning by looking to either our “stuff” or lack of it. Sure, we can find meaning in our possessions, but one day they’ll be taken from us. We can find meaning in our external beauty, but one day we’ll lose it. We can find meaning in our immediate happiness, but one day we’ll be sad.
My intention is not to denigrate actions that are promoted by material possessions or abundance. Neither is it to promote minimalism that advocates a life of little. At one extreme, we are trying to define ourselves by iPhones, cars, homes, and disposables, while at the other, we’re trying to define ourselves by our own depth of contentment. But neither one alone is sufficient to ground me in a world of refugees, crises, cancer, famine, genocide, human trafficking, and…the list is endless.
I’ve come to the conclusion that simplicity isn’t just about less mindless and needless stuff; It is about being present, being conscious of a world where nearly 1/2 of its population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day, and more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day). It is about making a constant and conscious effort to renew myself in the face of changing circumstances and the evolving “biggest” buildings. Simplicity itself demands time, space, and room to question the depth of today’s envied, desired and coveted, trading them with loved, treasured and adored in the living and breathing. While there are plenty of signposts along the path directing us to make money and climb up the ladder of today’s tall buildings, there are almost no signposts except for Easter and Spring reminding us to renew ourselves and to stay connected to the simple things that make life grand, to reach out to others, to pause, to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible…The promise of new life in the Easter Resurrection of Christ, and the buds and blooms of Spring.